Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Six Defendants Arrested In Multiple States For Laundering Proceeds From Fraud Schemes Targeting Victims Across The United States Perpetrated By Ghana-Based Criminal Enterprise
Defendants Laundered Over $50 Million, Which Primarily Consisted of Proceeds of Fraud Schemes from Business Email Compromises, Romance Scams Targeting Elderly, and Fraudulent Small Business Loans for COVID-19 Relief
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced the arrests of FAROUK APPIEDU, FRED ASANTE, CELVIN FREEMAN, LORD ANING, SADICK EDUSEI KISSI, and FAISAL ALI, a/k/a “Clarence Graveley,” for charges in connection with their roles in a fraud and money laundering conspiracy based in the Republic of Ghana (“Ghana”) involving the theft of tens of millions of dollars. FREEMAN and ALI were arrested earlier today in New Jersey and will be presented in Manhattan federal court later today. ASANTE and ANING were arrested earlier today in Virginia and will be presented in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia. APPIEDU was previously arrested in Queens, New York on October 18, 2020. KISSI was previously arrested in Fargo, North Dakota on February 5, 2020.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “The fraud schemes alleged that these defendants facilitated were lucrative, diverse, and most of all, callous. As alleged, they engaged in email spoofing, duping elderly online daters into wiring them money, and applying for government-funded Coronavirus relief funds earmarked for the benefit of small businesses affected by the pandemic. Thanks to the determination of the IRS and FBI, these defendants face serious prison time, and their next online profiles could potentially appear in a place where they’ll be unable to catfish anymore – the website for the Bureau of Prisons.
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. said: "The scams we allege in this investigation include romance scams targeting the elderly, business e-mail compromise scams, and even fraudulent covid-19 relief loans. In many of these and similar fraud cases, victims are reluctant to come forward because they fear embarrassment or reputational damage. Some may even believe the perpetrators are beyond our reach because they often live abroad. These arrests and indictments should serve as a reminder that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are here to help you and bring these bands of criminals to justice."
IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen said: "The arrests of the alleged ringleaders of this more than $50 million scheme today dealt a death blow to the vast criminal activity in which the defendants were engaged, including elderly scams, COVID-19 fraud, money laundering, among others. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to aggressively pursue those who profit from illegal activity and ensure they are brought to justice.”
According to allegations in the indictments filed against APPIEDU, ASANTE, FREEMAN, ANING, and KISSI, a criminal complaint filed against ALI, and other court documents:
From at least in or about 2013 through at least in or about 2020, the defendants were members of a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in Ghana that committed a series of business email compromises and romance scams against individuals and businesses located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York. The frauds perpetrated by the Enterprise have consisted of, among other frauds, business email compromises, romance scams, and fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. First, the objective of the Enterprise’s business email compromise fraud scheme was to trick and deceive businesses into wiring funds into accounts controlled by the Enterprise through the use of email accounts that “spoofed” or impersonated employees of a victim company or third parties engaged in business with a victim company. Second, the Enterprise conducted the romance scams by using electronic messages sent via email, text messaging, or online dating websites that deluded victims, many of whom were vulnerable older men and women who lived alone, into believing the victim was in a romantic relationship with a fake identity assumed by members of the Enterprise. Once members of the Enterprise had gained the trust of the victims using the fake identity, they used false pretenses to cause the victims to wire money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when in fact the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise. Finally, the Enterprise submitted fraudulent loan applications through a loan program of the United States Small Business Administration (the “SBA”) designed to provide relief to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”) Program. The Enterprise submitted fraudulent EIDL applications in the names of actual companies to the SBA and when an EIDL loan was approved, the funds were ultimately deposited in bank accounts controlled by members of the Enterprise, including certain of the defendants.
APPIEDU, ASANTE, FREEMAN, and ANING received fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise in dozens of business bank accounts that they controlled in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. The business bank accounts were opened in the names of companies formed by the defendants that were purportedly involved in, among other things, automobile sales, food imports and exports, and freight trucking and shipping. Once APPIEDU, ASANTE, FREEMAN, and ANING received fraud proceeds in bank accounts under their control, they withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise abroad. The defendants primarily laundered the fraud proceeds through their businesses by using the proceeds to purchase automobiles, food products, and other goods from U.S.-based suppliers and distributors of such products and shipping those products to Ghana and elsewhere. The defendants’ transactions had the appearance of legitimate business transactions when, in fact, the products had been purchased using the proceeds of fraud schemes. This trade-based money laundering scheme was designed to obscure the origin of the fraud proceeds as well as the identity of the ultimate beneficiaries of these schemes.
Collectively, from in or about 2013 through at least in or about 2020, APPIEDU, ASANTE, FREEMAN, and ANING controlled more than 45 bank accounts that had deposits that totaled over approximately $55 million during that time period. A vast majority of the deposits consisted of large wire transfers and check or cash deposits from various U.S.-based individuals and entities that were victims of fraud schemes of the Enterprise, or payments for vehicles, food products, and other goods sold by the defendants that were purchased using fraud proceeds. As part of the investigation of APPIEDU, the Government has seized and is seeking the forfeiture of four luxury cars purchased, at least in part, with fraud proceeds, including two 2019 Rolls Royce Cullinans, a 2020 Bentley Continental GT, and one 2020 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG.
KISSI received fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise in bank accounts that he controlled that were located in the Bronx, New York and elsewhere. Once he received the fraud proceeds in bank accounts under his control, KISSI withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise located in Ghana.
ALI received fraud proceeds from victims of the Enterprise into a series of at least thirteen bank accounts at six different banks, which ALI controlled in the Bronx, New York. ALI used the name and identity of another person to open several of these bank accounts in order to conceal the proceeds of the fraud scheme. Once ALI received the fraud proceeds in bank accounts under his control, he withdrew, transported, and laundered those fraud proceeds to other members of the Enterprise.
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FAROUK APPIEDU, 35, of the Bronx, New York, FRED ASANTE, 35, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, CELVIN FREEMAN, 47, of East Orange, New Jersey, and LORD ANING, 28, of Woodbridge, Virginia, were each charged in Indictment No. 21 Cr. 88 with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The case against APPIEDU, ASANTE, FREEMAN, and ANING is assigned to U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.
SADICK EDUSEI KISSI, 24, of Dickinson, North Dakota, was charged in Indictment No. 21 Cr. 64 with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The case against KISSI is assigned to U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty.
FAISAL ALI, a/k/a “Clarence Graveley,” 34, of Orange, New Jersey, was charged in a criminal complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of making false statements to a bank, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and IRS-CI. Ms. Strauss also thanked U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security investigations, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI Field Offices in Washington, D.C., Newark, New Jersey, Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Fargo, North Dakota, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Virginia State Police, the police departments of Fredericksburg, Arlington, and Prince William County, Virginia, and the Sheriff’s Office of Stafford County, Virginia for their assistance in the investigation of this case.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Sagar K. Ravi and Mitzi Steiner are in charge of the prosecution.